TOMORROW’S SKILLS, YESTERDAY’S BUREAUCRACY

February 27, 2019

 Lyall Lukey, Convener of Education Leaders Forum 2019 Digital Divides, Dividends & Dangers, argues that while there are undoubtedly big system and funding issues to address in the vocational education and training sector, the centralisation concept announced on 13 February is not the most effective way forward.

 

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Photo credit: Andrew Lukey   Post Quakes1

Guns not Roses

Echoes of Chicago 90 years ago: just in time for St Valentine’s Day, Industry Training Providers and Industry Training Organisations were lined up side-by-side, with large targets affixed, blinking in the media spotlight.

Triggers were not yet pulled but fingers were twitching as Minister of Education Chris Hipkins announced the vision of an over-arching New Zealand Institute of Skills & Technology.

NZIST-not to be confused with Winston’s mob- would replace the 16 autonomous institutes of technology and polytechnics, (ITPs) and 11 industry training organisations (ITOs ) with a single entity to establish a “unified, coordinated, national system of vocational education and training” for around 200,000 New Zealand students by the end of 2020.

But does this display 20/20 vision?

Polytechnics employed 8,150, and ITOs 1,300, full-time-equivalent staff in 2017. In a double bureaucratic whammy the current roles of ITOs would apparently be split between the new national organisation and the Tertiary Education Commission.

The role of the TEC in ensuring the integrity of funding via trough protection and snout muzzling has already expanded after it swallowed Careers New Zealand in 2017 to become a hybrid funder/provider.

Absolutely Negatively…

Try this thought experiment, with last week’s eighth anniversary of the lethal February Christchurch quake in mind.
Can you imagine happening, under a centralised governance model, the same kind of prompt response as actually occurred through collaboration between Christchurch Polytechnic (now Ara)  and local ITOs  to address the skills needs of devastated Christchurch businesses?

If you can, Christchurch people with experience of especially created central government bodies like Cera and  Ōtākaro,  with a focus just on Christchurch’s  recovery not the whole country, will quickly disabuse you. These entities often sidelined local knowledge and input.  Even local civic governance bodies have been left incommunicado. Que Cera Sera.

Roger Smyth’s recent EC article tells how it took a seismic crisis for key parts of the vocational education system to work really effectively together, despite funding constraints, on the skills needs of the Canterbury rebuild.

There are lessons to be learnt. Those immersed in the local knowledge ecology, with an understanding of local business needs, trump absent planners with whiteboards and spreadsheets every time.

The Empire Striking Back?

The Minister acknowledged that the proposed changes are significant. “However, the risks of not making changes are also significant,” he said. “Disruption now will strengthen the vocational education system for the long term.”

Sceptics may point to the infamous quote in Peter Arnett’s 1968 AP Vietnam dispatch: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”

The aim is to create a new, more streamlined and sustainable funding system and a more co-ordinated sector that can better respond to technology-driven workplaces. Both are long overdue and are changes the sector itself has long proposed.

The aims are forward looking, but the organisational solution proposed is a bureaucrat’s retrospective damp dream. In 2018 the Minister himself said that a highly centralised system faced issues relating to a lack of flexibility

Innovation

In a digitised world the nature of learning, work and everyday life is changing rapidly, with huge implications for education and training.

There is a direct link between a nation’s future prosperity and its ability to develop the knowledge and skills that deliver innovation. The ability to identify and prepare for present and future skills requirements is increasingly critical for education and training organisations, businesses and individuals.

Specific hard skills and soft skills sets are in increasingly high demand. There is a growing emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving, communications and collaboration, digital literacy and career and life skills, with an emphasis on flexibility and adaptability, initiative and cross-cultural interaction.

In the words of the Minister “Instead of our institutes of technology retrenching, cutting programmes, and closing campuses, we need them to expand their course delivery in more locations around the country.”

Some are doing exactly this now and are performing well, having succeeded in spite of, not because of, the present funding model.

Ara Institute of Canterbury has reported surpluses since its 2015 amalgamation and name change. Chief executive Tony Gray has expressed concern about how effective the proposed regional leadership groups would be.

A Balanced Alternative

Another well performing ITP is Otago Polytechnic. Here are some excerpts of what CE Phil Ker said in a post-announcement interview on Radio New Zealand: 

Q: Are the proposed changes good for the sector?

A: Yes and no.

“Yes . . . Polytechnics are haemorrhaging because of a grossly inadequate funding system that’s not fit for purpose.”

Yes . . . we applaud it being fixed. Ironically, if the funding model had been fixed 2-3 years ago, we wouldn’t have had this haemorrhaging.”

Yes . . . we applaud the intention to move towards more seamless learning via institutions and work-based solutions….”

No . . . the proposed model of one institution – head office and branches – completely removes the autonomy of the current institutions. We thought there might have been a move to a model that combined the best elements of a centralised system approach with a semi-autonomous institution approach….”

“Under a combined model, certain central functions could have been mandated – buildings, back-of-house systems, staff training are a few examples. But the combined model meant we could also have the autonomy to offer programmes of learning that made sense to local regions. That autonomy would also mean we could respond not only locally but nationally – to areas where there’s a need but perhaps a relatively low volume…”

Q: Do you think such centralisation and rationalisation threatens the local characteristics of polytechnics?

A: “… It’s a model-of-delivery issue. I’m arguing for the retention of autonomy – to enable institutions to respond to industry demand. I think the proposed model will, in fact, drive out responsiveness and innovation…” 

His subsequent ODT comments had this postscript “…I am not opposed to rationalising and a degree of centralisation of our polytechnic system. I am opposed to the particular model proposed by the Minister – it will throw out a lot of babies with the bath water. There is an alternative model which will still see a unified system, but which also preserves the autonomy of the individual institutions… We can have the best of both worlds.”

Civic Support

In support of Otago Polytechnic Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said ”The proposed merger risks undoing a lot of good work and would see Otago Polytechnic potentially being subservient to an organisational structure that may not understand or care about our local needs…We need Otago to remain autonomous, and flexible and responsive to local needs.”

The promoters of the current government’s Provincial Growth Fund talk about getting “buy in from local communities”. But vocational education demands more than that from regional stakeholders: it needs active collaboration, participation and partnership.

Dunedin’s digital ecosystem provides great examples of the cross-fertilisation between the education and business sectors.  Innovator of the Year Ian Taylor,  Animation Research has worked in this space for a quarter of a century.

He first came to public attention in the 1990s by making America’s Cup racing watchable via digital graphics and animation. He is currently working in Dunedin on a Virtual Reality prison literacy programme, in collaboration with the Methodist Mission South.

Alignment of Education and Training 

The Review of Vocational Education inevitably spawned the acronym ROVE. Perhaps the more appropriate acronym is RIVET for Review of and Intentions for Vocational Education and Training.

But just how riveting is the announced vision?

While the words “education” and “training are often used as synonyms it’s useful to  distinguish between them. The difference is evident when comparing “sex(uality) education” with “sex training”. (Now there’s an industry which missed the opportunity to set up its own ITO.).

Oversimplified, but the distinction does help clarify aspects of the respective roles of ITPs and ITOs, the first institution-based and the second located in the workplace.

The two vocational sub-sectors have often been like two trains travelling on parallel tracks to the same destination but with often poor communication between the respective drivers, to the detriment of passengers.

Integration of learning with work

The ROVE document says that the system needs to increase the amount of vocational learning that takes place in the workplace. Phil Ker agrees with better aligning trades training with polytechnic study, ”… integration of learning with work is critical. But that has to be designed for; staff have to be trained to do it.”

The most effective learning comes from a parallel process of knowing and doing, not through an analogue approach of accumulating lumps of knowledge first and then focusing on thinking skills and problem-solving.

But progress in integration does not require a single governance body. Joining the dots is not the same as erasing them. 

Qualifications and Employability 

According to the OECD, “Skills are the new world currency”. There is a growing demand for just-in-time learning to meet changing skill needs.

How do you improve knowledge and skill acquisition and make it easier for learners to demonstrate what they know and can do? 

National rationalisation of the tangled mess of qualifications is long overdue and now underway A big benefit in having a more integrated vocational education system is that it will make overhauled vocational qualifications more relevant and attractive-and more manageable time-wise.

Micro-credentials are an increasingly valuable part of the new skills currency. They enable people to show what they know and can do through digital certification, validating new learning as well as skills and knowledge already acquired.

Learning institutions handle quality control. For example, Otago Polytechnic’s micro-credential service EduBits works closely with the business sector and helps employers focus on their particular requirements.

Micro-credentials make visible employees, present and potential, who have got key skills or knowledge not indicated by conventional qualifications.

Trading Up 

One aim of the vocational shake-up is to correct the tertiary/ trades imbalance. According to the Minister of Education “Our thinking needs to shift from the idea that the ultimate goal of senior secondary schooling is to prepare young people for university,” 

Shorter workplace-integrated programmes will distinguish more clearly the offerings of polytechnics from those of universities.

Important v Urgent

Just as Wintec’s dirty washing was being re-aired publicly may have seemed to be a good time to play a reverse trump card and make a wall demolition announcement.

Minister Hipkins said that the vocational education sector is currently unsustainable and financially unviable “and the Government is moving to find a solution quickly”.

But the 6 weeks allowed for feedback is derisory, especially when contrasted with the timeline and process for the Tomorrow’s Schools Review.

Reform of the fragmented and competitive vocational sector may be well overdue but the important shouldn’t be dressed up as the urgent. It is not a National Emergency; rather it is a national opportunity to come up with an appropriate confederate balance of regional and national arrangements.

A large degree of governance autonomy, separate identities and distributed leadership models are the keys to credible local engagement in a networked digital age.

At the same time, curriculum and qualifications  reform,  professional development, digital  learning resource sharing and physical infrastructure, HR, health and safety all lend themselves to more national “back office” co-ordination and cost saving, so long as the “front office” identity and professional and business relationships are maintained where they are demonstrated to be working.

If not, some further amalgamations may be required such as those which over the last 4 years have led to the formation of Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology and Ara Institute of Technology.

Leading not Imposing Change

“People will support what they help to create.” Marvin Weisbord
Finding appropriate solutions to real issues is not just about why change should happen. It is about what change happens, how it happens and when. A  Roger Douglas big bang approach may force things through, but with unacceptable collateral damage.

The fallout after a policy announcement bombshell needs time to clear for the way forward to crystallise. More time needs to be spent on the vision and strategy, working with all the key players, before the focus turns to implementation.

The effective way to bring about change that lasts is to really engage with key players in order to do more of what is working well now. This is the Appreciative Inquiry approach to organisational change. It focuses on strengths rather than on weaknesses, deficits and problems.

As Industry Training Federation chief executive Josh Williams points out, the reforms should aim to strengthen industry-led training organisations rather than dismantling them.

Warwick Quinn, Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation chief executive says that while he understood the need for change, “We must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater…”. The changes needed to protect what was working well, and retain the positive aspects of on-the-job training and apprenticeships, especially in high-needs areas, such as building and construction.

Removing system blockages is a valid activity for political plumbers. But while it is important to repair, rejig and replace some parts of the present vocational reticulation system, it is just as  important  to reinforce those parts which are working well and so avoid  disrupting the flow of skills acquisition.

What is not required is a KiwiBuild-type approach, giant in concept but pygmy on delivery, for instilling the skills of the very people required to build houses and the nation.

Mobilising knowledge and expertise

At Education Leaders Forum 2018, UK speaker Prof.Toby Greany  explored the    intersections between policy, practice and evidence and the ways in which knowledge, expertise and capacity moves around within and between organisations.
His models for knowledge mobilisation, the development and impact of networks and collaboration, along with his approach to education leadership and professional development are highly relevant for building momentum for positive step changes in regards to vocational education and training.

The cold logic of ideology and the selective use of financial data from a chronically underfunded sector should not drive out the knowledge and experience of key players.

** https://conversation.education.govt.nz/conversations/reform-of-vocational-education/have-your-say **         (You’ve only got until 27 March!)

Lyall Lukey Convener of Education Leaders Forum 2019 Digital Divides, Dividends & Dangers Dunedin 17&18 July.

 

 

 


NCEA Trivial Pursuit?

November 18, 2018

Exams-Getty

“New Zealand students say word ‘trivial’ in exam confused them.”
  BBCNews Headline 16/11/18

Year 13 Level 3 NCEA exam students (usually aged between 17 and 18 at exam time) were recently asked to write a History essay based on the Julius Caesar quote: “In war, events of importance are the result of trivial causes.”

More than 2,600 people signed an online petition over the “unfamiliar” word, demanding not to be marked down as a result of their lack of comprehension.

Examiners said the language used was expected to be within the range of the year 13 students’ vocabulary. However, in a statement, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority [NZQA] added: “If candidates have addressed the quote and integrated their ideas with it, then they will be given credit for the strength of their argument and analysis and will not be penalised for misinterpreting the word ‘trivial’.”

That’s all right then-and at least the petitioners displayed some digital and collaborative skills as well as their surprising semantic deficit.

But perhaps the old-fashioned exam format, involving writer’s cramp-inducing marathons for those who use pens of any sort infrequently, is the real trivial pursuit.

All concerned will watch the continued roll out of the NZQA’s digital transformation process with interest.

20/20 Vision

NZQA’s vision is for NCEA examinations to be made available online by 2020.

The approach to online examinations reflects the teaching and learning happening in classrooms and the capabilities of the technology to support a good digital examination user experience in a given subject. This means that it may be some time before all subjects are available for online examination.

While the approach is currently focussed on digitising the paper-based examinations to help schools manage the transition, the opportunity exists to support a transformation in the way in which external assessments when digitally supported teaching and learning is pervasive. See https://www.nzqa.govt.nz/about-us/future-state/digital-assessment-vision/.

At the same time, since 2017 NZQA has been digitising its approach to external moderation of internally assessed work, since learners are increasingly producing and submitting learning evidence digitally. The vision is to see 100% of moderation materials, in subjects where it’s appropriate, being submitted digitally by 2020.

A more effective and accessible digital system for accessing and sharing learning evidence from internal and external assessment will benefit learners, educators  and employers alike.

Lyall Lukey 18/11/18

[Lyall Lukey was a History teacher and external  History exam marker many moons ago. He still holds the world records for the number of pages he filled in his own School Cert. History Exam and for the smallest fraction of a mark awarded per completed page. He has given up playing Trivial Pursuit. Among other things, since 2007 he has been  the convener of  annual NZ-wide Education Leaders Forums .]

 


Job Currency: By Degrees? Without Qualifications? With Micro-credentials?

September 3, 2018

Speaking at the recent 12th annual Education Leaders Forum in Rotorua, Phil Ker, CE Otago Polytechnic generated  interest  with his presentation “Micro-credentials: an old dog with some new tricks!”  ELF Convener Lyall Lukey explains why. This article was first published on Educational Central on 29 August 2018.

See you later?

By itself a degree or a diploma is no guarantee of appropriate workplace performance. Some may argue that the Texas student who recently posed for graduation snaps  in the water, with an alligator  another snap away, should have her degree replaced forthwith with a Darwin Award.

“Tertiary qualifications not required”

Last year more than 100 New Zealand organisations signed an open letter saying that tertiary qualifications are not required for a range of skilled roles in their workplaces. Instead, they were themselves willing to assess the skills, attitudes, motivation and adaptability of candidates in order to cope with a shortage of skilled workers in a rapidly changing employment  environment.

Likewise reports The Wall Street Journal U.S. employers are dropping both work history and degree requirements in order to attract a larger pool of job candidates. This seemed to work for  one newish  high office incumbent .

Micro-credentials: Some new tricks!

At the points of entry and promotion, fast filters developed by independent experts are obviously useful for both employers and job  seekers.

Enter micro-credentials- specific mini-qualifications which recognise smaller, more discrete sets of skills and knowledge than a degree or diploma.

At ELF18 Phil Ker said that micro-credentials are enjoying an international resurgence, both in response to time and money costly traditional qualifications and to meet employer demand for training that meets specific work needs at a time of rapid technological and social change.

The “old dog” turns out to be a very lively greyhound, especially when compared to existing Clydesdale qualifications. It can take 10 years to complete a part-time degree and two years plus to do a part-time certificate.

Traditional qualifications are also slow and costly to develop and cannot respond quickly to new skills needed by industry. Micro-credentials can be custom-made in short development time-frames.

Showing you’ve got what it takes

“Edubits validate sets of skills and knowledge developed through experience or through new learning. They are flexible, online, anywhere, anytime and cost effective.” Phil Ker, CE Otago Polytechnic

There is a growing demand for just-in-time learning to meet these changing skill needs. Micro-credentials enable people to show what they know and can do through digital certification, validating new learning as well as skills and knowledge already acquired.

Otago Polytechnic’s micro-credential service EduBits  works closely with the business sector and helps  employers frustrated with deciphering omnibus qualifications focus on their particular requirements.  It also makes visible employees, present and potential, who have got key skills or knowledge not indicated by conventional qualifications.

The key components of the service, on-line and/or face-to-face, are the assessment of required competencies and either the identification of prior experiential learning or the delivery of developmental training.

Present EDUbits include Health & Safety, Team Management, Microsoft Skills, Project Management.

EduBits can quickly be tailor-made to satisfy organisation-specific requirements. Dr Lance O’Sullivan is using EduBits to validate the skills of the digital health assessors involved in iMOKO, the innovative digital health service for children  which has just gone national with the support of the Wright Family Foundation.

Once awarded, an EduBit digital badge can be added to online profiles like LinkedIn, personal websites, email signatures and CVs. The badge encapsulates the assessment metadata attesting to particular workplace knowledge and skills that are not necessarily linked to academic qualifications, though some EduBits can be NZQA endorsed.

Potted History: Mismatch and Mishmash

Changes in workplace practices are forever outrunning the attempts of education and training providers to keep up. Innovation and disruption creates an on-going mismatch between the mishmash of qualifications and those who use them as employment currency.

During the First Industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries a modicum of education was encouraged by some new industrialists for factory workers, presumably so the latter could read the on/off buttons on new machinery, thus avoiding being jammed in it and slowing production.

The Second Industrial Revolution in the final third of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th brought with it a new level of technological change, standardisation and the Henry Ford assembly line still beloved by some education policy makers.

By performing simple repetitive tasks manufacturing workers became extensions of their machines. They were encouraged to leave their brains at the factory gates.

World Wars I and II encouraged close ties between manufacturing and warfare. The nature of management itself underwent a military metamorphosis, becoming more hierarchical and incorporating terms like the span of control.

Post-World War II American W.Edward Deming , for a long time a prophet without honour his own country, was instrumental in the postwar Japanese economic miracle by encouraging higher standards of statistical education and practice on the factory frontline. This was based on the joy of learning and its application. It embedded quality into the whole manufacturing process rather than it being a postscript at the end of the assembly line.

Today’s Agile World

Today, in a more Agile world, hierarchies have flattened further. As the outcome of organizational intelligence the agile enterprise  uses key principles of complex adaptive systems to rapidly respond to change in a business environment and meet customer’s needs by taking advantage of available brainpower to continuously innovate or disrupt without compromising quality.

But many academic and trade qualifications remain analogue in a digital world.

A less testing school environment

“With the removal of National Standards and the flexibilities of NCEA and growing focus on internal assessments our teachers are going beyond the test and exploring new and interesting ways to capture and evidence learning…”    Claire Amos

As the emphasis shifts at the primary and secondary levels from the summative to the formative,  hopefully reducing assessment form-filling by teachers,  there  will be more opportunities for informal real-time feedback to encourage learners.

This means that what happens now in the tertiary qualifications space is especially relevant.

 

Stronger links with employers

Employers, among others, must be listened to and encouraged to accept the credibility and utility of new ways of providing evidence of learning and doing. The strength of the currency of evolving qualifications needs to be lifted and maintained to avoid triggering Gresham’s Law.

As Phil Ker points out, as the supply of micro-credentials grows a significant challenge will be the extent to which the market is regulated and the credentials are quality assured, as is the case with traditional qualifications.

In a recent Education Central article on micro-credentials and life-long learning  Roger Smyth marks the development of a framework for the creation of micro-credentials, announced by the Minister of Education on 1 August, as a first step in this respect.

No doubt hybrids will eventually emerge, with some micro-credentials becoming later components of diplomas or degrees, while having already served their purpose incrementally.

Lyall Lukey  Convener of annual Education Leaders Forums since 2007.